The adhoc contiguous retail committee will defer any action on recommending imposing amortization on downtown Los Altos Banks and also defer action on nail and hair salons and actually will defer recommending imposing any amortization at all at the present time. There will be a wrap up meeting of the subcommittee on July 16 to review the language of its ‘gentler approach’ recommendations to the Los Altos City Council. Then the subcommittee will be suspended until after Item 4 below – landowner collaborative facilitiation – is completed. Then it may reconvene.
defer any action on recommending imposing amortization on downtown Los Altos
As discussed at the meeting,
the subcommittee will recommend to City Council that
- The City talk to the owners of the Bank of West about leasing the unused drive through land for experimental conversion to a parklette or less likely, temporary shallow retail, perhaps a “pop-up” store. An option to buy might be considered.
- The consultant the City has hired to perform the Downtown Parking Management study be asked to include as a task, evaluation of conversion of some parking to retail along the part of Plaza 6 parking lot that fronts on State Street. Ron Packard, member of City Council and chair of the subcommittee, estimates the worth of such a patch of City land on Plaza 6 would be about $2 million.
- Council change zoning such that existing banks on Main Street – a non-conforming use – could relocate into smaller space anywhere in the CRS zone. Ron Packard said that after “all the bad publicity this committee got about banks” people should understand that we are now “actually giving them more options.”
- A facilitator be hired by the City Council to work with the neighboring landlowners and tenants of the State -Main -Third triangle to collaboratively discuss how they might creatively work together to improve retail there.
Ron Packard did test support of committee members for a motion that would apply amortization to buildings/uses “wider than x feet” where x = 30. As Mr. Packard pointed out that would affect banks and also the travel agency on Main Street. Mr. Byers, who represents the owners of the travel agency building said if the City imposed an amortization it would be a “taking” of the property. No retail tenant would want it the way it is now. “ It would have to be torn down and rebuilt to be attractive for retail.” Apparently it is actually two buildings, one of which has no restrooms. “That’s [the rebuild] not good for us. The City can pay for it though.” The building owner has just signed another 5 year lease with the travel agency, which subleases to over 13 small office businesses.
Representatives from the Costume Banks asked the City to consider permanently removing the overgrown vegetation that constantly blocks public view of and access to a bench a public rest area on State Street. Right now that is what is stopping contiguous retail at that point.
There was discussion of reducing the time period for transferring a non-conforming use to the same use from 120 days to 90. But that was not moved forward. Mary Prochow, local commercial real estate broker asked, “We would allow the same use for 120 days after it was vacated to bring back the same use?” Packard says that amortization is usually applied to porn shops and cement plants, but has definitely been applied to urban planning like the downtown Los Altos situation.
Mary Prochow, who owns a retail/office building in the Main-Third-State triangle countered, “Well, if it’s [the travel agency] not a porn shop and not a cement plant, and you are just talking about rearranging businesses, is that how we choose to do business? Because the Supreme Court will allow it for porn shops and presumably medical marijuana shops? He [Byers] doesn’t have anything like that.”
…is that how we choose to business? Because the Supreme Court will allow it for porn shops…?
Ron Packard: “I think that is a fair question. Is that how we want to do business. ?” Mary, “ Yes, that is my question.”
Ron Packard: “We have people saying we need to change downtown Los Altos and revitalize it. And this is one way it could be done. But maybe this has negative aspects and is too un-Los Altos-like.”
maybe this has negative aspects and is too un-Los Altos-like
Mary Prochow: “And for a committee of 4 to 5 people to presume they are going to rearrange it, that then it’s going to improve, seems outrageous. There are people who spend their career deciding how Stanford Shopping Center is going to be arranged for success. That’s their entire education, that’s their entire career. I don’t mean any disrespect to those of you who have volunteered your time. I’ve done it myself over many committees, so I’m not disrespecting the process, I’m just asking about the presumption that when people study their whole lives to do this successfully, whether it be Santana Row or Stanford, that a small group of people who have no retail experience believe that they can tell people to redo their building to the tune of maybe millions of dollars for what is really a stab in the dark. Will it work or won’t it.? Or will we be back to the same thing where people don’t walk down that block any more than they did before? But if you used Mr. Byers’ building, he may suffer a vacancy for 2 or 3 years till he sees the light [ of amortization zoning ] and spends a million dollars and reconfigures it, and maybe he doesn’t get a tenant even then. I don’t have people knocking down my door looking for huge retail space, so I don’t know how that is going to change were he to rebuild the building. It’s been a question since the committee began and I can’t resist it.
…a small group of people who have no retail experience believe that they can tell people to redo their building to the tune of maybe millions of dollars for what is really a stab in the dark. Will it work or won’t it.?
Public Access to Downtown Survey
Detailed Demographics and Cross tabs
Gabrielle Tiemann, subcommittee member: “I want to see more information on the demographics of the recent downtown survey.” As a member of the Senior Commission she says she knows a lot of people who have, “Founders’ syndrome. ‘Everything is fine downtown.’ They would never want to change it.”
Kathy Kleinbaum, City of Los Altos Director of Economic Development, explained that the Survey sub-committee, of Val Carpenter and Megan Satterlee need to go through the 1000 pages of crosstabs. They are culling out the more important aspects, like age correlation, just as Gabrielle Tiemann asked for. “We can give everyone [who wants the file ] 1000 pages of them [tables] .” But as a City we need do our interpretation.
…Gabrielle Tiemann: I want to see more information on the demographics of the recent downtown survey…1000 pages, I have the time
Ron Packard: “Whether we are an uneducated group or not, we are the group.”
Mr. Byers, representing trade; agency building owner: [Paraphrasing Mr. Byers] Talk to a retail developer about the whole triangle. Have the developer rebuild it and keep some of the old tenants. Don’t look at zoning, look at redesigning some of these wasted spaces. I thought the group [ subcommittee ] was working on revitalizing the downtown.
Parkard and Fishpaw (City Council member pointed out the scope of the ad hoc contiguous retail committee was way narrower than revitalizing downtown– mainly just consideration of amortization of non-conforming uses and buildings in the downtown CRS zone. Fishpaw pointed out the City had “limited tools.”
Thinking Big, Thinking Holistically,
Working with Developers for Creativity
Jeannie Bruins – former Planning Commissioner and likely city council candidate in November – reiterated and expanded on Mr. Byers’ suggestion to get a big developer involved.
Jeannie Bruins: “…Have a focus group with developers…I will use an example of the Villages of San Antonio…[though we in Los Altos want to get ahead of that curve]…This developer, as the project starts being developed , you’ve got other property owners in there now who are suddenly saying I have enough incentive, I want to sell my land and add it into this. There is more leverage through a visioning, through the creative minds of developers, who know what this would look like. Then you find that other people want to join in. As a city , as a government we can’t do this. But we can enable a more creative process, with developer expertise. We are not the experts in this room. Why not bring a group of experts, start looking at this more holistically. You’ll see the creative juices. People want to be part of the creative juice. You don’t want to be the one [lone] guy who gets clubbed on the head [with amortization? with the first million dollar remodel?]. Because the risk is too great, because the cost is too high. But if you could see a bigger picture you may say hey, I want to join that [ collective group project] parade. I’m ready to sign up, be part of the solution.“ [ The risk with a group is lower ]
There is more leverage through a visioning, through the creative minds of developers, who know what this would look like. Then you find that other people want to join in. As a city , as a government we can’t do this. But we can enable a more creative process, with developer expertise. We are not the experts in this room.
Good News Downtown – Salons Can’t Afford Downtown Los Altos
Mary Prochow says all vacancies downtown are filled except for 151 Main Street. She says the market is so hot that a vacancy of a nail salon space could be filled by another nail salon the same day it came on the market, if that were legal. She argued that applying amortization zoning to the existing salons would just make them become more and more run down, as they stopped making any tenant investment.
Kathy Kleinbaum explained the amortization really did need not be applied to nail salons because market forces were doing the job of getting them off Main and State. She said the Andiamo salon space will now be occupied by retail; retailers are bidding more to lease space than salons are now; so these non-conforming uses will disappear. One a salon space becomes used for retail, zoning law says it can’t flip back. Ron Packard concluded that the salons were less of a problem then he had thought originally. So after all the discussion, his probe for support of amortization on salons got no support for action now.
Good News for Open Space – Lennar Project Pumps over $3M into Parks Fund
Ron Packard reminded the group that the City could afford to invest in parklettes – say on Plaza six – downtown now. Of course, the CIP priorities for investment in park amenities throughout north and south Los Altos would have to be revisited to include parklettes as a potential project(s).
Further consideration of amortization of banks and salons is deferred until after the City sponsored facilitator has had group discussions with the owners within the Main-Third-State triangle. The ad hoc contiguous retail sub-committee will review a draft of it’s current recommendations to City Council (top of post) at its next meeting on July 16. Then it will suspend meetings till after the facilitator’s findings.
LALAHPOLITICO: That ‘s the plan and the timeline, but we all have to watch for changes. For now “eminent domain lite” as a tool to enhance vitality downtown has been put on hold in large part to a vigilant public who showed up at the sub committee meetings and spoke their minds. We agree with speakers who have been urging letting the market do it job. Please bury that amortization “hammer” which would be wielded for unfair spot zoning.